Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

fashion-architecture

More often than not, these two disciplines and the artists that practice them go hand in hand

When the founders of Kate Spade decided in 2015 that they wanted to once again make a go of the accessories business, they decided that their new label, called Frances Valentine, would consist primarily of shoes instead of handbags (which was the thing they originally became famous for in the early 1990s).

The handbag market is crowded enough, they said, so rather than offer dozens of pocketbooks, they whipped up just a few easy-to-carry totes and a broad range of footwear, including everything from casual sneakers to sky-high stilettos.

No matter what category they’re chasing, designers Andy Spade and Kate Valentine — who changed her surname in order to create a delineation between the real person and the still-active brand — will always favor clean lines mixed with artful graphic flourishes. That’s why the collection’s pièce de résistance is a chunky geodesic heel that makes an appearance in the designer’s spring collection under a strappy sandal and, in the fall, a sharp Chelsea boot. The heel was inspired by American architect R. Buckminster Fuller, whose futuristic domes can be found everywhere from Russell Township, Ohio, to Montreal, Québec.

It’s a novel interpretation, but hardly an unexpected one. “Fashion is architecture,” Coco Chanel once said. “It is a matter of proportions.”

BODY OR BUILDING
Indeed, fashion and accessories designers have long applied the principles of architecture to their chosen medium. There are endless examples of the two intermingling. What they have in common is functionality. Unlike art, which often has no end use other than contemplation, architecture and fashion both serve a purpose. The precision required to erect a building or some other sort of edifice is an inspiration for designers, who must often bring structure to a material that lacks form.

It’s no surprise that several of fashion history’s greatest practiced or at least studied architecture before learning to drape a dress. Tom Ford was an undergrad at Parsons Paris (a branch campus of New York’s esteemed The New School) when his eye began to stray from the monumental toward the sartorial. Legendary Italian designer Gianni Versace studied architectural drafting while moonlighting as a buyer for his mother’s clothing store in southern Italy. Italian designer Gianfranco Ferre, who earned a degree in architecture from the Milan Polytechnic Institute, began his fashion career designing accessories, a process that is often more in line with that of his intended profession — perhaps because it requires the eye of an industrial designer.

Dubbed “the architect of fashion,” Ferre went on to lead the House of Dior from 1989 to 1996. His most notable contribution to fashion, however, is his white shirt iterations. (A garment that requires plenty of engineering to get right.)

Becca McCharen, the Brooklynbased designer behind Chromat, has used the foundations of her architecture degree from the University of Virginia to build an unorthodox fashion label. “Architecture school taught me how to approach a design project,” she said. “It is my full reference on how to design.”

Without any formal fashion training, McCharen treats each garment as if it’s a building. “I think of the body as a building site,” she continued. “Just as you’d be looking at materials and the map of a site before you start plans, we’re looking at context, too. Joints and the movement of the joints all around the place we’re designing for.”

The designer, best known for the cage-like structures she molds to the body, also uses her electrical engineering know-how to wire garments so that they are illuminated in an enticing, not hokey, way.

A MUTUAL ADMIRATION
It might be the minimalists, many of whom are not trained architects, who take the practice’s theories most wholeheartedly.

Cuban-born American designer Narciso Rodriguez wanted to be an architect before he became a fashion designer, and the exacting lines of his clothing reflect that. “Architecture is always one of the foundations for me,” he once told The New York Times. The New York-based designer’s favorite buildings include resident treasures such as the Seagram, Empire State and Chrysler buildings.

The Turkish-born, London-based designer Hussein Chalayan has been known to draw more directly from the well of home design, crafting a skirt out of a coffee table and creating a dress that functions as a chair. Or there is Los Angeles-based designer (and former architect) Airi Isoda, whose company is called wrk-shp. She has taken to dipping clutches in latex house paint and coats in concrete.

Isoda, who studied architecture at the University of Southern California, has said the exhibit Skin & Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion & Architecture at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles was a lightbulb moment. “It was the first time I saw fashion in a new light — conceptual and architecture for the body,” Isoda told the website Archinect. “Viewing an elaborately draped dress with folds similar to a façade of a building I studied in school … it was just an eye-opening experience because I saw intellectual fashion, past its somewhat superficial and superfluous nature.”

Isoda went on to study fashion design; wrk-shp is a culmination of her multiple disciplines. The company designs clothing and accessories, lighting, objects and buildings in Los Angeles and beyond. In fact, the buildings of Japanese architect Toyo Ito inspired Isoda’s latest apparel collection. In particular, his “lily pad” columns have informed her silhouettes and pocket details.

It’s important to note that the relationship between fashion and architecture is one of mutual admiration. “Starchitects” are often commissioned to design clothing and accessories. For instance, architect Zaha Hadid was almost as well known for her honeycomb-lattice jewelry as she was for erecting the Guangzhou Opera House. Before her death in 2016, she had also collaborated with the shoe label United Nude, as has Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.

But many of the most important fashion and architecture collaborations have nothing to do with actual clothes. Consider the ongoing partnership between Koolhaas and Prada. He has designed several retail stores for the Italian brand and also collaborates with its leader, Miuccia Prada, on collection visuals. The relationship between these two — underscored in the skate-park-like Prada store in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, which still impresses 15 years after it opened — has served as an example for many. Like Prada’s clothes, Koolhaas’ concepts remain interesting years, and even decades, after they are conceived.

Making things that last, not just structurally but also intellectually, is the greatest challenge for both architects and fashion designers. Perhaps the fact that clothing and buildings are both rooted in need first and desire second best explains why these two worlds cannot be uncoupled from one another.

By Lauren Sherman. This story originally ran in the June-December 2016 edition of The Henry Ford Magazine.

By Lauren Sherman
By Lauren Sherman

The Henry Ford Magazine

THF129403

Raymond Taylor and E.T. Paull’s “A Signal From Mars March and Two-Step,” 1901 imagines two inhabitants of Mars using a signal lamp to communicate with Earth. THF129403  

The concept of "life on Mars" and "Martian Fever" was not incited in the pages of the tabloid magazine Weekly World News—but actually reaches much further back to 1877—with Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli. The astronomer himself was not to blame: a single word in his report—canali, which is Italian for “channels”—was misinterpreted to mean "canal" once translated into English. In Schiaparelli’s time, telescopes became more advanced and powerful, allowing him to make detailed maps of the planet’s surface. At the time of this mapping, Mars was in “opposition,” bringing the planet into close alignment with Earth for easier observation. While creating his maps, however, Schiaparelli fell victim to an optical illusion. He perceived straight lines crisscrossing the surface of the planet, which he included in his records, assigning them the names of rivers on Earth. These were the canali—and the source of a misunderstanding which morphed into a self-perpetuating legend about intelligent, ancient, canal-building Martian lifeforms. 

mars-map
Giovanni Schiaparelli’s Map of Mars (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons). 

Much to Schiaparelli’s annoyance, the American astronomer Percival Lowell continued to pursue this "life on Mars" theory. Beginning in 1895, Lowell published a trilogy of books about the “unnatural features” he saw through his telescope in Flagstaff, Arizona. He created his own maps of the planet, much of which Schiaparelli believed to be pure fantasy. In reality, the imagery Lowell was seeing was likely caused by diffraction illusion in his equipment. Lowell was not alone in popularizing the concept of an intelligent Red Planet. The astronomer, psychical researcher, and early science fiction writer Camille Flammarion published The Planet Mars in 1892, which collected his archival research and historic literature exploring the idea of an inhabited planet. In 1899, Nikola Tesla claimed to have tapped into intelligent radio signals from Mars; in 1901 the director of Harvard’s Observatory Edward Charles Pickering claimed to have received a telegram from Mars.

In 1901—the year that Raymond Taylor and E.T. Paull’s "A Signal from Mars" sheet music was published—"Mars Fever" had officially taken hold, as scientists and enthusiasts alike actively explored the potential for two-way communication with Mars. This piece of music, made in tribute to the planet, is a prime example of the exoticism of science, space travel, and speculation about the limits of technology (along with a few missteps) colliding with future-forward, popular, and artistic culture.

THF344586Amazing Stories, September 1950. THF344586

Speculative thinking about Mars did not end in 1901—it has continued to provide a source of inspiration and exploration for both popular and scientific cultures. The Red Planet and its hypothetical inhabitants often appeared in early pulp and science fiction magazines like
Amazing Stories and Astounding Stories. The first issue of Amazing Stories was published in April 1926 by inventor Hugo Gernsback, and was the first magazine to be fully dedicated to the genre of science fiction. Gernsback himself is credited as the “father” of science fiction publishing—or, as he called it, “scientification.” The magazine introduced readers to far-reaching fantasies with journeys to internal worlds like Jules Verne’s “Trip to the Center of the Earth,” and explorations of other dimensions and galaxies, time travel, and the mysterious powers of the human mind.  Throughout its publication of over 80 years, Amazing Stories included many fictional accounts of Mars, including H.G. Wells’s “War of the Worlds,” Cecil B. White’s “Retreat to Mars,” pictured here, E.K. Jarvis’s “You Can’t Escape from Mars!” 

THF108523Standing left to right are H.G. Wells and Henry Ford at Cotswold Cottage, Greenfield Village, 1931. This photograph was taken 7 years before the infamous 1938 radio broadcast of Wells’s War of the Worlds. This radio-play used media as an all-too-effective storytelling device, inciting a public panic about an alien invasion in the process. THF108523

In 1924, with Mars once again in opposition to Earth, a new round of astronomical experiments and observations emerged. In order to test theories of advanced cultures inhabiting the planet, the inventor Charles Francis Jenkins and astronomer David Peck Todd were commissioned by the US military to conduct a study to “listen to Mars.” For the purposes of this experiment, Jenkins created an apparatus called the “radio photo message continuous transmission machine,” capable of creating visual records of radio phenomena on a long strip of photographic paper. Jenkins’s device was connected to an ordinary SE-950 NESCO radio receiver, serving as the “listening ear” in this experiment. Any incoming signal would trigger a flash of light on the paper, creating black waveform-like lines and thus revealing any chatter of alien radio waves.

The Army and Navy proceeded to silence radio activity for short periods over the three days of Mars’s closest course, believing that anyone who was bold enough to defy military-ordered radio silence would surely be extraterrestrial in origin. The Chief of US Naval Operations, Edward W. Eberle, sent this telegram on August 22nd:

7021 ALNAVSTA EIGHT NAVY DESIRES COOPERATE ASTRONOMERS WHO BELIEVE POSSIBLE THAT MARS MAY ATTEMPT COMMUNICATION BY RADIO WAVES WITH THIS PLANET WHILE THEY ARE NEAR TOGETHER THIS END ALL SHORE RADIO STATIONS WILL ESPECIALLY NOTE AND REPORT ANY ELECTRICAL PHENOMENON UNUSUAL CHARACTER AND WILL COVER AS WIDE BAND FREQUENCIES AS POSSIBLE FROM 2400 AUGUST TWENTY FIRST TO 2400 AUGUST TWENTY FOURTH WITHOUT INTERFERRING [sic.] WITH TRAFFIC 1800[1]

THF156814
Radio Receiver, Type SE-950, Used by Charles Francis Jenkins in Experiment Detecting Radio Signals from Mars. THF156814

When the paper was developed, the researchers were surprised to find that it contained images. These graphics were interpreted by the public to be “messages” composed of dots and dashes and “a crudely drawn face” repeating down the thirty-foot length of film. Jenkins, however, feared that his machine would be perpetrated as a hoax, so when the films were released he did so with this caveat: “Quite likely the sounds recorded are the result of heterodyning, or interference of radio signals.” While the popular press used these images as confirmation of life on Mars (in fact, this 1924 experiment
has appeared as “evidence” in the tabloid, Weekly World News), the scientific community provided logical explanations: static discharge from a passing trolley car, malfunctioning radio equipment, or the natural symphonic radio waves produced by Jupiter. The SE-950 radio used by Jenkins in this experiment is now part of The Henry Ford’s collection: a simple rectangular wood box with knobs and dials that easily hides its deeper history as part of an experiment to communicate with Mars.

From Schiaperelli to Lowell; from the adventure tales of H.G. Wells to the first science fiction magazines of Hugo Gernsback; from a curious piece of turn-of-the-century sheet music to an even stranger experimental radio—Mars has acted as an inspirational and problematic site for creative and scientific pursuits alike. In July of 1964, the fly-by images gathered by the spacecraft Mariner 4 put an end to the most far-flung theories about the planet. As Mariner 4 transmitted images back to Earth, there were no signs of canals, channels—or a populated planet. And finally, in recent years, technological innovation has allowed our knowledge of Mars to grow at a rapid pace, with NASA’s on-planet rover missions and SpaceX’s Falcon and Dragon vehicle programs. Martians or not, despite the fact that the Red Planet lingers an average of 140 million miles away from Earth, it continues to broadcast an inspirational signal of astounding strength, which reaches straight into the human imagination.

Kristen Gallerneaux is the Curator of Communication and Information Technology, The Henry Ford. 

([1]  Telegram from the Secretary of the Navy to All Naval Stations Regarding Mars, August 22, 1924, Record Group 181, Records of Naval Districts and Shore Establishments, 1784-2000, ARC Identifier 596070, National Archives and Records Administration.) 

Mars

THF231106Pete Henderson, #16 Duesenberg, Ora Haibe, #14 Sebring, John Aitken, #2 Peugeot, Sheepshead Bay, 1914. THF231106

If you’re a fan of the Disney musical Newsies, you may remember the character Racetrack singing about obtaining "a permanent box at the Sheepshead races" in the song King of New York. While Racetrack was referring to a horse racing track located in Sheepshead Bay, New York, that same facility was later converted to a board track for automobile racing. While board tracks around the country had a limited lifespan, they set the stage for the eventual creation of modern paved oval racetracks and the expansion of automobile racing across the United States.

THF111772Barney Oldfield riding the "Blue Streak" on the Salt Palace Board Track, Salt Lake City, Utah, circa 1900. THF111772

The earliest oval board tracks in the United States, commonly known as motordromes at the time, were constructed around 1910. With designs based on the velodromes used for bicycle racing in Europe, they utilized thousands of small, wooden boards in their construction. For the one mile long track at Playa del Rey, California, over 300 miles worth of boards were used to create the racing surface.  Many of the board tracks also included steep banked corners, adding to the excitement. The wooden surface was cheaper to install than a paved one at the time, although the upkeep did create additional costs over the years.  

THF228751
Board track racing on the track in Playa Del Rey, California. THF228751

Over the next 20 years, board tracks were constructed in cities around the country, including Chicago, Tacoma, Omaha, and Brooklyn. Smaller communities also had tracks: Valley Junction, Iowa; Hopwood, Pennsylvania; Sharonville, Ohio; and Salem, New Hampshire, to name a few.  They ranged in length from half a mile to 2 miles, with thousands of people attending races. The American Automobile Association (AAA), which had established its Contest Board in 1908, sanctioned championship level races on these tracks. From 1920 through 1931, 82 of the group's 123 championship events were staged on wooden raceways. Early motor racing stars, such as Joe Nikrent and Louis Disbrow, found success on the boards as well as paved tracks.

THF229073
Joe Nikrent and Louis Disbrow racing in Oakland, California. THF229073

There were some drawbacks to the board tracks though. Safety issues, including high rates of speed in corners, extreme G-forces on the drivers, flying splinters and debris, and the basic tire technology of the time, led to accidents and fatalities on the tracks. Spectators, especially those at motorcycle races, were vulnerable to out of control vehicles veering off the track. Track upkeep was extremely expensive, with the tracks needing to be resurfaced every five years or less. Stories remain of repairs being made to the tracks as cars raced overhead. Lack of competition with the increase overall speeds was another drawback; generally the fastest car at the start of the race crossed the finish line first.

THF73131
Dave Lewis's Race Car Stopped on the Board Track at Altoona Speedway, Tipton, Pennsylvania, in 1925. THF73131

Major races ceased to be held on boards after 1932, although a few tracks prolonged their lives by hosting midget racing competitions. In the end, the majority of the tracks were torn down, the land utilized for other purposes. Alas, this was the fate of the Sheepshead Bay Speedway. The track, built in 1915 on the site of the old horse racing facility, only operated until 1919. The land was sold four years later and redeveloped for residential purposes, with no trace of the facility remaining today. Relegated to memory, it is important to remember the integral role that this board track and others like it played in the expansion of automobile racing across the United States.  

Janice Unger is Processing Archivist , Archives & Library Services for the Benson Ford Research Center, at The Henry Ford.

THF254023

The Grand Army of the Republic (often known by its abbreviation, GAR) was an organization of U.S. Civil War veterans who had served for the Union.  In existence from 1866 through 1956, it peaked in 1890 at over 400,000 members and 7,000 posts.  The GAR scheduled meetings and other gatherings for members, provided charitable donations to the needy, supported the construction and maintenance of Civil War memorials and sites, and became a powerful political lobbying group.  In 1868, the group’s commander-in-chief initiated an observance known as Decoration Day, which we still commemorate today as Memorial Day.

We’ve just digitized over 30 GAR badges, medals, and insignia from our collections, including
this badge from a 1908 encampment at Toledo, Ohio.  Browse all of the digitized GAR-related artifacts by visiting our Digital Collections.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

medals, Civil War, digital collections

THF130220
The Wawona Tunnel Tree was a popular early tourist attraction at Yosemite National Park. THF130220

At the dawn of the 20th century, horseless carriages were still untested novelties.  They were prone to mechanical breakdowns over long distances and likely to get mired in the muck of bad or non-existent roads. Yet, despite these challenges, the lure of taking them out to view the scenic wonders of America’s national parks was irresistible. 

The first adventurous motorists showed up at Yosemite National Park in 1900 and at Yellowstone two years later. They shocked everyone and were promptly ordered to leave. For more than a decade afterward, automobiles were banned from the parks.  After all, these newfangled contraptions endangered park visitors, spooked the horses who regularly pulled tourist carriages and wagons, and seemed out of keeping with the quiet solitude of the parks.  It would take the creation of the National Park Service in 1916 and the vision of its first director, Stephen Mather, to wholeheartedly embrace automobiles as an asset to the parks. And perhaps no other single decision would have more impact on both the parks themselves and on Americans’ attitudes toward them. 

THF120284
Stagecoach loading well-to-do tourists in front of Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel at Yellowstone National Park, part of a package tour offered by the Northern Pacific Railroad. THF120284

Slowing down acceptance of automobiles in the parks was the control of the railroads, who early on realized the profits that could be made by providing exclusive access to the parks. Railroad companies not only brought tourists from distant cities and towns but also financed many of the early park hotels and operated the horse-drawn carriage tours inside the parks. The long railroad journey, hotel stays, and park tours were all geared toward wealthy tourists who could afford such extended and expensive pleasure trips.

Despite the railroad companies’ lobbying efforts and park managers’ arguments that they spoiled the experience of being in nature, automobiles entered the parks in increasing numbers. Mount Rainier National Park was the first to officially allow them in 1907. Glacier allowed automobiles in 1912, followed by Yosemite and Sequoia in 1913. Motorists to the parks still faced long lists of regulations: written authorization to enter, time restrictions on the use of their vehicles, strict attention to speed limits, and rules about pulling over for oncoming horses and honking at sharp turns.

THF111540
Advertising poster promoting Metz “22” automobiles, winner of the American Automobile Association-sponsored Glidden Tour of 1913—a 1,300-mile endurance race from Minneapolis to Glacier National Park. THF111540

As automobile clubs exerted increasing pressure on local and state governments, Congress slowly began taking steps to improve park roads to make them safer for motorists. The advent of World War I—sharply curtailing travel to Europe—coupled with an aggressive “See America First” campaign by highway associations like the Lincoln Highway Association encouraged more Americans than ever to take to the open road. By 1915, so many motorists stopped at Yellowstone National Park on their way to the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco that in August of that year, automobiles were finally officially allowed entrance to that park.

THF103662
The scenic Cody Road to Yellowstone National Park, which opened in 1916, offered eastern motorists a more direct route into the park than the original north entrance used by tourists arriving by the Northern Pacific Railroad and the west entrance used by those taking the Union Pacific Railroad. THF103662

In just 15 years, automobiles in the national parks had grown from a trickle to a steady stream. But the real turning point came with the creation of the National Park Service on August 25, 1916, and the vision of its first director, Stephen Mather.  Mather wanted all Americans to experience the kind of healing power he himself had found in the national parks. So he aligned himself with the machine that was dramatically transforming people’s lives across the country—the automobile.  Mather knew how to appeal to motorists, promising them “a warm welcome, good roads, good hotels, and public camps.” Furthermore, he innately understood that the point-to-point travel of horse-drawn carriage tours would not work for motorists, who wanted to travel on their own schedule and stop where they wanted. Scenic highways with turnouts, lookouts, and trailheads would be oriented to the understanding that, as Mather’s assistant Horace Albright maintained, “American tourist travel is of a swift tempo. People want to keep moving [and] are satisfied with brief stops here and there.”

THF128250

So many early motorists arrived at the parks prepared to camp that public campgrounds were soon created to ensure safety, order, and control. THF128250

Mather’s ceaseless promotion worked.  In 1918, the number of tourists coming to Yosemite by automobile outnumbered those arriving by train by a ratio of seven to one.  In 1920, for the first time, the number of people visiting the national parks exceeded one million during a single year.  Mather could happily declare that the American people “have turned to the national parks for health, happiness, and a saner view of life.”  And the automobile, he concluded, “has been the open sesame.” 

THF209509
As the parks officially opened to automobiles, motorized touring cars rapidly replaced horse-drawn vehicles—in 1917 for both Yellowstone and Yosemite and in 1919 for Rocky Mountain National Park. THF209509

Numbers rose dramatically from that time on.  In 1925, yearly visitation to the parks exceeded two million and in 1928, three million.  With increased visitation came more willingness by Congress to support the parks.  Annual appropriations went toward improvements geared to motorists, including campgrounds, picnic areas, parking lots, supply stations, and restrooms.  Newly paved roads were designed to harmonize with the landscape and offered plenty of scenic turnouts and vistas.  At the same time, the majority of land would remain wilderness for backcountry hikers and campers. 

THF118881
Roads for motorists were designed to heighten the experience of the parks’ scenic wonders, as shown by this view next to the Three Sisters Trees in Sequoia National Park. THF118881

When automobiles entered the national parks, the foundation was laid for the ways in which we experience them today.  Mather believed that there was no better way to develop “a love and pride in our own country and a realization of what a wonderful place it is” than by viewing the parks from inside an automobile.  Everyone did not agree, of course.  Some argued that cars were a menace, a nuisance, an intrusion.  Either way, the automobile was destined to become the “great democratizer” of our national parks.

THF209662

This 1929 guidebook offered automobile tours not only along the rim of the Grand Canyon but also to the outlying, lesser-known Navajo and Hopi reservations. THF209662

For more on automobiles in the national parks, check out:

Donna R. Braden is the Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.  She’s looking forward to visiting two more national parks on her bucket list soon—Mount Rainier and Olympic.

camping, auto touring, national parks

gci-thf

We are happy to announce the launch of our second themed release on Google Arts & Culture!  GCI’s “American Democracy” release launched July 13, 2016. 

The American Democracy collection allows anyone with an Internet connection to explore over 60 exhibits and 2500+ artifacts from 44 institutions including the Constitutional Rights Foundation, Monticello, and the National Archives.  The Henry Ford’s presence includes just over 200 artifacts from our collections covering our country’s history from the early 19th century through the 2012 presidential campaign, and consisting of campaign buttons, ballots, lanterns, bumper stickers, and prints, as well as many quirkier items, like campaign-themed bubble gum, cigarettes, top hats, capes, and razors.  We are also featuring three online exhibits as part of the collection: Electing Lincoln, on the presidential campaigns of Abraham Lincoln; Bright Past, Fragile Future, on the conservation of our fragile paper political lanterns; and Bottles, Bobbleheads, and Bubblegum, highlighting some of the most interesting and unique presidential campaign items we hold. 

Visit g.co/AmericanDemocracy to check out all the exhibits and artifacts in this collection, and be sure to visit our own Digital Collections to see even more artifacts from our collection related to political campaigns and presidential elections.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

THF162712

The collections of The Henry Ford contain dozens of bandboxes, 19
th-century containers originally used to store neckbands (the source of their name), but frequently also used to hold hats or other clothing/accessories. These inexpensive containers were made of pasteboard or wood and then covered in paper—in many cases, as with this vibrant example, wallpaper.  Over 70 of these fragile objects can now be viewed in our Digital Collections—and check out the ones that have 360-degree views, showing interiors lined with newspapers of the time.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

Earlier this year, The Henry Ford launched a brand-new, award-winning institutional website. Part of this project—but a big part!—is a completely reimagined Digital Collections. The Henry Ford has been scaling up its collections digitization efforts since 2010, and you’ll find tens of thousands of artifacts available online (some of the most recent additions here), with many new and enhanced features on the new site. Though we hope the new Digital Collections experience is intuitive and easy to use, we wanted to highlight some of the features for those who might not yet have had a chance to dig in and explore.

One of the best things about our Digital Collections is that they are now fully integrated with the rest of our website. This means that any search you try on our website will return results from our educational resources, our Digital Collections, and the rest of the site, in convenient tabbed format.  

thf-website-1
Digital Collections artifact results from a site search on thehenryford.org.

If you’re specifically interested in our artifacts, you can easily perform collections-specific searches from the homepage of our Digital Collections. By entering a word or phrase in the single box, you will search three kinds of records—individual artifacts, archival collections, and expert sets, with each group of results returning in its own tab. For artifacts, you can limit your search results by date, the type of artifact (objects, photos, documents, videos/film, or audio), the location of the artifact (Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, the Benson Ford Research Center, or not on exhibit), the special multimedia types available for that artifact (360-degree views, audio, or video), and whether there are high-resolution images available for automated download for a service fee. Search results can be sorted by relevance, title, or date.

thf-website-2
Search results from a search from the homepage of our Digital Collections.

If you need to get even more detailed, you can, with one of my favorite new features on the Digital Collections site,
Advanced Search. While the Digital Collections homepage search features a single box and returns results based on relevance, the more sophisticated advanced search lets you combine any of 20 different parameters, such as collection title, color, material, or creator name. Want to find orange automobiles? Or velvet dresses? Or photographs from the Fair Lane Papers collection? With Advanced Search, you can! An online help guide explains the many different fields and provides sample values for each to assist you in constructing your search.

thf-website-3

Once you’ve found an artifact you want to check out, you’ll notice that the look of each artifact record has changed. You will now see more information about each object, and it is easier and faster to flip through the images of each object—or zoom in to see fine details. Some objects may include
360-degree views, audio, and/or video. Each record features a “contact us about this artifact” button, through which you can e-mail our collections experts in the Benson Ford Research Center to ask questions or provide additional information or corrections to our data.

thf-website-3The look of an artifact record in our new Digital Collections.

Many Digital Collections records now display related artifacts, so while viewing something like the record for a historic photo of the Autogiro, you’ll be able to easily jump to the Autogiro itself. “Related content,” such as a story or video we’ve created including that object or other objects from our collection, will also appear where appropriate (see the record for our Apple 1 for examples). Artifacts may be shared via Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, or as “artifact cards,” short, portable versions of collections records that you can embed on your blog or website. Social sharing links and instructions for using artifact cards are available via a link on every collections record.

 Archival collection records are brand-new to our Digital Collections. Previously, you needed to use our library catalog in order to find broad information about specific archival collections. Our new site allows us to include information from archival finding aids alongside the records that represent individual items from those collections. We will continue to add these archival records as collections are acquired and processed.

thf-website-5
A record for one of our many archival collections.

Expert sets have been totally overhauled. They still collect groups of artifacts selected by our collections experts on specific themes, but are much more robust and visually appealing. As noted above, they are also searchable directly from the Digital Collections homepage. But you don’t have to be an expert to create your own set… Anyone can! Just click the “Add to Set” button on any artifact record and log in or create an account. It is also easy to share both expert sets and user sets via Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail.

thf-website-6
One of hundreds of artifact Expert Sets created by our collections staff.

Another notable new feature of the site is that many of our collections images are available for immediate high-resolution download for a service fee.  Anywhere you see the BUY icon on an image (or use the relevant search limiter), you can purchase that image for personal or educational use in accordance with the terms of service listed on the site. We will continue to add more purchasable images to our Digital Collections over time. Lower-res images may be downloaded without a fee.

Lastly, if you ever tried to use our old Digital Collections site on a smartphone or tablet, you might have found it a frustrating experience. The new Digital Collections site is completely responsive, and all features will work equally well on your phone, tablet, or desktop computer.

Please try out our Digital Collections, if you haven't already, and feel free to contact us if you have any questions or comments about your experience. Our hope is that our new Digital Collections makes it easier and more fun for you to find, enjoy, and share the many treasures of The Henry Ford!

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

THF162495

“Opening the Door” is an unusual and large ( 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide) painting that recently received some much-needed conservation here at The Henry Ford. 

Painted in the 1840s by self-trained artist George W. Mark, it depicts a young girl holding a flower. She stands in an elaborately-painted open doorway. Behind the girl a bust and lamp are visible on the table in a very shadowy room. The intent is to present a life-size vision that fools the eye into thinking that we are looking into a real space. 

If you have the opportunity to take part in a VIP or Special Access tour of our Benson Ford Research Center storage, you will see this painting. It is greatly admired and it is positioned in a prominent location in the state-of-the-art storage facility here at The Henry Ford.

The painting needed conservation attention because it was not in stable condition after years of storage and many moves. Some of the damages were due to the challenges of handling – the painting is not framed, so corners got crushed when it was set down with too much force. And past attempts to hang it resulted in old patched holes near the top.

Take a look behind the scenes to see some of our work conserving "Opening the Door."

thf-conservation-teamCurator of Decorative Arts Charles Sable, Conservator Celina Contreras de Berenfeld, and Senior Conservator Clara Deck examine the work in progress.

closeup-door
This image shows the last old, yellowed varnish as it was removed from the paint surface.

closeup-varnish
This is a microscopic image of the thick varnish, before and during removal. The cracks (which are actually quite small!) are expected in a painting of this age and type.

Many paintings suffer over time due to the natural aging that darkens the once-clear protective varnish coat. As the varnish darkens, it shifts colors that were originally intense and bright; they become murky and brownish. Varnish removal restores the painting’s original colors. It is not unusual for old varnishes to require renewal, and this was done as part of an extensive conservation treatment completed last year.

Old patches were also redone so that they are invisible from the front and the whole painting was lined with stable backing material to support its large size. The restoration of damaged areas of the paint was done by “in-painting” only the small areas of lost paint. Finally a new, reversible varnish was applied overall.

The final result is a stronger, stable painting that can survive for at least another 171 years in the care of The Henry Ford.


Clara Deck is Senior Conservator at The Henry Ford.

conservation